Law and Philosophy

, Volume 38, Issue 3, pp 227–266 | Cite as

Conscientious objection and equality laws: Why the content of the conscience matters

  • Yossi NehushtanEmail author
Open Access


By enacting equality laws the liberal state decides the limits of liberal tolerance by relying on content-based rather than content-neutral considerations. Equality laws are not and cannot be neutral. They reflect a content-based moral decision about the importance and weight of the principle of equality vis-à-vis other rights or interests. This leads to the following conclusions: First, since equality laws in liberal democracies reflect moral-liberal values, conscientious objections to equality laws rely, almost by definition, on unjustly intolerant, anti-liberal and morally repugnant values. Secondly, we should not shy away from explicitly relying on moral-liberal views when deciding whether it is justified to grant exemptions from equality laws. Thirdly, conscientious objections to equality laws should normally not be tolerated or accommodated by the state, because conscientious objections that rely on what is rightly perceived as unjustly intolerant, anti-liberal and morally repugnant values should not be tolerated in a tolerant-liberal democracy.


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© The Author(s) 2019

Open AccessThis article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made.

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of LawKeele UniversityKeeleUK

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